Arlene Rickard, owner of The Toon Travel, said it had been a “terrible time” for her business – which she first opened in North Street, Bo’ness, in September 2019 before moving to its current location in South Street in September 2020.
While businesses like pubs, cafes and restaurants were receiving support grants from the Scottish Government to help them stay afloat during the lockdowns, travel agencies like Arlene’s were left high and dry.
She said: “At one stage I had my family – my father, my husband and my son – helping me because I couldn’t afford to pay staff to come in. We had to open when there was nothing for us to sell because the restrictions meant people couldn’t actually go anywhere.
“We were in working canceling or altering holidays and getting no money because travel agents only get paid eight weeks prior to the holiday – so when people cancel them or move them back to a later date we don’t get money.
“No other industry was affected in this way. Pubs don’t have to refund customers for the drinks they bought the year before.”
Arlene, who worked for Thomas Cook for 20 years before setting up her own business, says her customers have been great, but she was close to upping sticks and leaving.
“My customers have been absolutely fantastic and things are getting better now, but if I had moved down to Newcastle and opened a travel agents I would receive more support from the UK Government than I’m getting just now.
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“Why is Scotland different to the rest of the UK? They say travel agents are able to open and start operating again because restrictions have been lifted, but there are still countries you cannot travel to like Canada, New Zealand and Australia and there is the added work and cost of booking and paying for PCR tests to enter certain countries.
“We’ve had to change our whole operation due to COVID-19.”
Arlene has contacted everyone from her MSP and MP to ABTA, to the directorate for COVID-19 business resilience and support with her concerns.
“The question I wanted them to answer was what was the reason behind travel agents being excluded from receiving support grants from the Scottish Government, when other business were being supported throughout.”
A response from the directorate for COVID-19 business resilience stated: “We know this is an extremely difficult time for travel agents, however, due to finite resources and the scale of the current challenge, we have had to make tough decisions to target funding to sectors immediately impacted by the updated public health guidance.
“As a result, outbound travel agents are not eligible for the businesses support allocated to date. The scale and urgency of the Omicron situation requires financial support for business on a scale similar to that at the start of the pandemic and regrettably, we recognize that it will not be possible to help every business or sector.
“We would hope the easing of testing restrictions announced by the First Minister on January 9 will have boosted recovery within the sector and increase revenue for your agency.”